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Solving the Apostasy Puzzle

Hebrews  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  27:45
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Can a true, born-again believer lose their salvation? In this sermon we will piece together the puzzle and find out.

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This morning’s Scripture lesson is taken from Hebrews 6:4-9.
Hebrews 6:4–9 ESV
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation.
We have now arrived at the most controversial passage in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews 6:4-9 strikes at the heart of the debate of whether or not a Christian can lose their salvation by committing apostasy. This debate is like a puzzle that is missing pieces—no amount of effort seems to give us the complete picture. I am convinced that God always gives us the interpretive clues we need to understand His Word and I believe the missing pieces to the puzzle are found in the the analogy of the two fields. But before we begin to solve this puzzle, it is important that we first define what apostasy is. Many Christians live in fear that they have committed apostasy and have lost their salvation.
Apostasy is not the common backsliding into doubt, doctrinal error or sin that every Christian experiences. David backslid into sin, Peter backslid into doctrinal error, and we see that many of the Psalmists backslid into doubt. Backsliding is not falling. It is one thing to slip and slide backwards as you climb a mountain, it is a totally different thing to fall off the mountain!
Apostasy is falling of the mountain! Apostasy is the denial and total repudiation of Christ. We see this in our text:
Hebrews 6:6 ESV
and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
For those who are fearful that they may have committed apostasy, let me say this: If you are concerned about losing your Christian faith and salvation, then you most definitely have NOT committed apostasy. By definition the apostate cares less about having fallen from their Christian faith—he or she has totally repudiated that faith!
We are now ready to piece the puzzle together. The debate centers around the five spiritual blessing found in verses 4 and 5.
Hebrews 6:4–5 ESV
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,
The author of Hebrews is saying that these five spiritual benefits were once enjoyed by those who committed apostasy. Those who argue that a Christian can lose there salvation see these five things as evidence that these people were once regenerate believers. They especially focus on “enlightened” and “shared in the Holy Spirit.” On the surface, their agreement seems to have merit. Sometimes “enlightenment” is used to speak of spiritual regeneration and of course every born-again believer is baptized in the Holy Spirit. However, in Hebrews 10:32, the author of Hebrews uses “enlightened” to speak of the initial entrance of a person into the Christian community. In addition, “shared in the Holy Spirit” does not have to mean being baptized in the Holy Spirit, it can simply be refer to the fact the everyone who joins themselves to the Christian community will be sharing in the Holy Spirits presence and power.
But the decisive proof that a Christian cannot lose their salvation is found in the analogy of two fields.

The First Piece: Abundant Rains

Notice that both fields are in a “land that has drunk the rain that often falls.” (Heb 6:7) God abundantly showers His provision upon those who gather in His name. Notice also that in verse 7, the author says the land is “cultivated.” God has done everything that is necessary to produce an abundant harvest! The list of spiritual benefits God gives the church is the author’s way of reminding his readers of this. What makes apostasy so sinful, is that it is so inexcusable! The apostate can never use the excuse that God has not been gracious enough.
A parallel list is found in Romans 9. In this list, Paul speaks of the spiritual blessings the Jewish community enjoys.
Romans 9:4–5 ESV
They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
What is significant about this list for our purposes is that Paul is arguing that these are spiritual benefits all ethnic Jews enjoy, regardless of whether they have true faith or not. It appears that this is the same thing the author of Hebrews is doing for the Christian community. The rains fall on the whole land and both fields have been carefully cultivated for the purpose of a fruitful harvest, but only one field is fruitful. This is the second piece of the puzzle.

The Second Piece: A Fruitful Field

One of the fields in this land of abundant rain produces a bountiful crop. This is what is to be expected. In this story the fields are not only receiving abundant rain, but they are being “cultivated.” God has done everything that is necessary to provide for a good harvest.
The analogy of a field was a common one in the ancient world and in Judaism. In Isaiah 5 we have Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard and in Matthew 13, Jesus tells the Parable of the Soils. In Jesus’ parable, the soils stood for different types of faith. It was only the “good soil” that produced a harvest.
The author of Hebrews very well may have had this parable in mind when he wrote these verses, but even if he did not, the analogy was such a familiar one that his readers would have not missed the point: in the presence of God’s rich provision, true faith will always produce a crop of righteousness!
The same however, cannot be said of the other field:

The Third Piece: An Unfruitful Field

Things are very different for the other field. It too is cultivated in view of a rich harvest and it too is provided with regular rains, but it produces a crop of “thorns and thistles” and “it is worthless and near to being cursed.” This language of “thorns and thistles” reminds us of the curse God gave Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 and the words “being cursed” remind us of the promises of blessings and curses Moses gave Israel in the book of Deuteronomy.
As the author of Hebrews has already reminder us, it was unbelief that brought God’s judgement and curse upon Israel.
Hebrews 3:16–19 ESV
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
It is unbelief and false faith that make for bad soil. It is not as though those who “fall away” were totally devoid of faith, it is just that their faith is incomplete. Their faith is not totally upon God and His promised Messiah—Jesus Christ.
In the Parable of the Soils there is an initial response of faith in the “bad soils,” but this faith does not last because it has no depth. Those who commit apostasy appear to have true faith for a time, but because their faith in Christ is not complete they fall away when Satan, persecution or the cares of the world come along.
Now we are ready to put the pieces of the puzzle together:

The Completed Puzzle

Putting the pieces together we see that it this list of spiritual blessings are not a sign that these apostates were regenerated, born-again believers, but rather they are a sign of God’s gracious provision to those who gather in His name. It is the graciousness of this provision that makes the sin of apostasy so inexcusable and so treacherous. Having enjoyed such benefits, notice again how the author of Hebrews describes the ugliness of apostasy.
Hebrews 6:6 ESV
and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
Thus there is no evidence in the passage that a true believer can lose their salvation.
But how can you be sure, you are a true believer or not? The answer to that question is found in the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism, which we used as our confession of faith this morning: What is your only hope in life and in death?
Your answer to that question reveals the true nature of your faith. If Jesus is truly your only hope in life and death you would never let go of Him. Let me illustrate it this way: Suppose you were shipwrecked in the middle of the ocean and you wear holding on to a life-ring. Would you ever let go and try to swim to shore? Of course not. That life-ring is your only hope that you have of staying alive until the Coast Guard can reach you. Jesus is not just the life-ring, He is the Coast Guard as well! He is our only hope! A faith that sees Jesus as our only hope will never deny Him. Consequently, it will never commit apostasy.
Consider the words we sang earlier in the service:
Without Him I could do nothing,
Without Him I’d surely fail;
Without Him I would be drifting
Like a ship without a sail.
Perhaps there is someone here today that has professed to believe in Jesus. Perhaps you are even a member of this church, but today you have come to realize that Jesus has not been your only hope in life and in death. O, He has been A hope, but He has not been your ONLY hope. If this describes you, you have false faith. If you don’t repent and place your faith only in Jesus you will sooner or later commit apostasy, the falseness of your faith will be revealed to all. Repent and believe now before it is to late, because if your delay you will come to that terrible place where repentance and faith are impossible.
Let us pray.
Lord God, we look to you and your Son Jesus to preserve us in our faith and hope. If there be anyone today who is only placing a partial faith and hope in Jesus, have mercy upon them and renew their hearts that they may have true saving faith in Christ alone. Amen.
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